Supporting a Free Palestine Will Free Us All
Up and down the country hundreds of thousands of us are joining the chant ‘from the river to the sea Palestine will be free’. Unsurprisingly from a government that has spent the last ten years trying to shut down any support for Palestine by labelling it anti-Semitic, Suella Braverman has made clear she wants this chant interpreted as a criminal offence by police in England and Wales. Indeed, she and others are insinuating that flying the Palestinian flag alone is an act of terrorism, and incitement to violence against Israeli civilians.
But this is a trick, and we will not fall for it. When we say ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’, we are not promoting the ethnic cleansing of Israel. Just as flying the Palestinian flag does not mean we condone the killing of Israeli civilians. We will not accept the terms of the debate set by an occupying force, supported by enabling Western states and parroted by a compliant media. We, the hundreds of thousands of us who will continue to stand with the people of Palestine, can read the room and we know that the only flag representing a state whose clear objectives are to ethnically cleanse a people – is the Israeli flag.
Time and again the Israeli state has tried to confuse the narrative. When the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by a sniper whilst reporting in 2022, the Israeli army first claimed she was shot by Palestinians, before finally admitting she was killed by an Israeli soldier.
It’s hard to make sense of the figures we’re seeing, but over 7,000 Palestinian civilians have been murdered in Gaza over the past 3 weeks, with over 100 killed in the West Bank. And yet every single time we demand an end to the occupation – an occupation that has squeezed the life out of any political possibility for peace – or when we demand an end to the siege of Gaza — a siege that has squeezed the life out of any meaningful possibility of existence — or indeed when we demand a ceasefire – the bare minimum that we should be asking for in the face of this genocide -every time we ask for this we are told to first condemn Hamas.
What is the logic behind this twisted lack of empathy, in the face of such a well-documented act of ethnic cleansing? The logic is that in the eyes of the so-called civilised nations in which we live, Palestinians do not have the right to resist. It means that Palestinians can be given a trickle of aid now and again, and can receive our occasional thoughts and prayers, but only when they play the part of the perfect defenceless victim. The perfect defenceless victim which we, the West and historic colonial power, can swoop in and save. Yes, we need to show up for Palestine today, yes we need to support the work of organisations such as Medical Aid for Palestinians, who are doing vital firefighting work against the tsunami of slaughters, but no, Palestinians do not need us to save them, they are saving themselves. And indeed their liberation will save us all.
An activist in Egypt recently posted on social media ‘We are not freeing Palestine. Palestine is freeing us. Protests are completely banned in Egypt. It’s thanks to the people of Palestine and Gaza that we’re able to taste this bit of freedom. We owe them everything. Everything.”
We are in the fortunate position that protests are not banned in Scotland, though we shouldn’t take this for granted — just look at France where Palestinian protests have been made illegal and Westminster which has recently passed a draconian set of anti-protest laws. And yet here too, protesting in solidarity with Palestine is freeing us. Palestinians are teaching us what it means to see the majority of your homeland taken from you over the past 75 years and yet still believe in the right of return. They are teaching us what it means to live under military occupation for 56 years and yet still believe in the possibility of peace. And they are teaching us what it’s like to live through four wars in the space of ten years, and still call Gaza home with pride. There is an Arabic word sumuud which means steadfastness, perseverance, patience and resolve, staying put, and being rooted. Palestinians are teaching us the meaning of sumuud.
Palestinian resistance, in other words, needs to be defined as terrorism in the eyes of the Israeli state, because it is too powerful not to. When the 9 year old Ahed Tamimi raised her fist at an Israeli soldier in defiance, later slapping a heavily armed soldier at the age of 16, that was resistance. But she was labelled a terrorist and sent to prison because her power lies in shaming Israel for being the colonial power that it is.
In 2018 when thousands of Gazans staged the March of Return, peacefully approaching the separation fence that traps 2.2 million people in a land mass the size of the Black Isle, that was resistance — but they were shot at with live ammunition and killed in their hundreds because they were exposing the state of Israel for what it is, an apartheid regime breaking international law.
And when the poet Dareen Tatour posted a poem on social media describing the importance of Palestinian self-determination, that was resistance, but she was arrested because she was exposing the very myth that the Israeli state was founded on — that it is supposedly a land without a people, for a people without a land.
Don’t forget that Nelson Mandela, now the darling of the West and whose book ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ is a must-see on all liberal politician’s bookshelves, was himself labelled a terrorist in the heydey of South Africa’s apartheid regime, and when the African National Congress was staging their own resistance to it.
But despite these restrictions, and more, Palestinians continue to resist and will do so until they are free. That is what is meant by the phrase: ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’. It means that all people who live in the land that lies between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea will be free, regardless of their state, faith, nationality, sexuality, gender or world view. Indeed, Ahed Tamimi, who became a figure of Palestinian resistance at the age of 9, says: “We should extend our struggles to one another in order to end all the world’s injustices.”
This is why we stand for the people of Palestine. Not just because the genocide we are watching unfold today is truly the darkest hour this century has faced, but because their very reason for resistance — 75 years of colonial rule — is a poison that still infects the rest of the world, infects us, and is one from which we all need to be freed.
No better is this made clear than in the powerful statement issued by the Teachers & Employees of Birzeit University in Ramallah last week. They say:
“2023 will be recorded historically as the year that Palestinians stood boldly in the face of colonial fascism and screamed in defence of their homes, humanity and life. Palestinians as a people have endured over a century of settler colonial violence. We have thrived as a people and shall continue to do so. We do not need to speak of our right to resist, for it is not a right, but a way of being and survival for Palestinians. […] Resistance in all of its manifestations and forms does not need the pre-approval of static international laws and code. The oppressed do not need to claim authority over their own oppression, the ongoing events of history -our history – is what allows us this authority. […] It is our duty to record this moment not as its victim, but as the people who will remember, record, survive and resist it.”
This is why we will fly the Palestinian flag high and this is why we will continue to shout, alongside our Palestinian brothers and sisters: ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!’.